STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA ) IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS
COUNTY OF BEAUFORT )
IN THE MATTER OF THE )
MAY 1, 2007, REPUBLICAN )
PRIMARY ELECTION )
EX PARTE: )
CATHERINE C. CEIPS, ) ORDER
This matter came before the undersigned upon Petitioner's Ex Parte Petition to extend the voting poll hours for the Republican Primary Election being conducted this date, May 1, 2007.
Service of the pleadings was attempted to be effected on Agnes Gavin, County Elections and Registration Director (sic); James Wedgworth, Chairman Beaufort County Republican Party; and Republican Primary Candidates Richard Chalk, Weston Newton and Tom Taylor.
Agnes Garvin appeared and was represented by Kelly J. Golden, Esquire. No appearance was made on behalf of James Wedgworth. No appearance was made on behalf of Candidate Richard Chalk; however, the Court was advised by Counsel for Candidate Ceips that service on Mr. Chalk was attempted to be effected by fax and that counsel received a "received" fax receipt for same. Candidate Weston Newton was represented by Russell Patterson, Esquire. No appearance was made on behalf of Candidate Tom Taylor; however, Attorney Infinger advised the Court that he had verbally confirmed that Candidate Taylor was in receipt of the pleadings and expressed no objection to this Court proceeding in this matter. Candidate Ceips was present and represented by Paul Infinger, Esquire and Ralph E. Tupper, Esquire. Also present, was Wes Jones, Esquire.
The Court entertained and considered information presented by Counsel for the parties present and testimony from Gary Kubic, Beaufort County Administrator, about the closure of the McTeer Bridge and the effect the closure of the bridge had on commuters within the County of Beaufort and Ms. Gloria Williams, a resident of Lady's Island who testified concerning the additional commuting time imposed on residents of Lady's Island due to the closure of the McTeer Bridge.
In addition to the argument presented by counsel, the testimony presented to this Court, the record includes Exhibit 1, Affidavit of Candidate Ceips; Exhibit 2, Affidavit of Lora Cording; and Exhibit 3, a letter dated May 1,2007, addressed to Stephanie Cilandine,U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights, with an attached fax transmission receipt indicating the letter was faxed to the Department of Justice on May 1, 2007, at approximately 11:23 a.m. to the telephone number (202) 616-9514.
After hearing from the parties and based upon the record in this proceeding, the undersigned enters the following:
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. Northern Beaufort County Sea Islands, including but not limited, to Lady's Island, St Helena, Dataw, Harbor Island, and Fripp Island, are accessible by one of two bridges: 1) The McTeer Bridge, a four lane bridge extending US Highway 802 to US Highway 21 on Lady's Island and 2) The Woods Bridge, a two lane "swing bridge" (a/k/a draw bridge) extending U.S. Highway 21 across the Beaufort River. The Woods Bridge provide access through the Intracoastal Waterway by commercial and commuter traffic and is restricted in use in terms of vehicular traffic and their weight, width and height.
2. On or about April 26,2007, the McTeer Bridge was damaged by a vessel under burden. As a result of the inspection and discovery of the damage incurred earlier in the week, on or about April 29, 2007, the S.C. Department of Transportation ordered the closure of the McTeer Bridge to all vehicular traffic.
3. Closing the McTeer Bridge has resulted in substantially increased commuter times for access and egress to the Sea Islands of the east and south of the Beaufort River.
4. The closure of the McTeer Bridge has an imminent impact of voter turn out due to increased commuter time, traffic delays and timely access to the polls.
5. S.C. Code Section 7-13-60 provides that the polls must be opened at seven o'clock a.m. and closed at seven o'clock p.m. the day of election and must be held open during these hours without intermission or adjournment.
Based on the foregoing Findings of Fact, the undersigned enters the following:
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
A. All findings of fact more property designated as conclusions of law are incorporated by reference as if set forth verbatim herein.
B. Notice of exigent circumstances consisting of the closure of the McTeer Bridge has been provided to the U.S. Justice Department, Office of Civil Rights, and I so find.
C. The closure of the McTeer Bridge constitutes exigent circumstances that will likely substantially affect the voters' ability to timely exercise their right to cast their vote.
D. S.C. Code Section 7-13-60 is directory. Its terms and conditions are subject to extension due to exigent circumstances such as those found in the County of Beaufort.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, that the County of Beaufort shall cause the polls in District 46 to remain open until 9 o'clock p.m.. May 1,2007, and the Beaufort County Board of Elections and Voter Registration shall take the following action:
(1) Notify all Poll Workers to staff the polling places until 9 o'clock p.m., May 1, 2007.
(2) The last voter present and in line to vote at 7 o'clock p.m. shall be identified by the Prec'nct Manager, or his/ her designee, and this voter's identity shal.' be recorded 'n order to keep and maintain a record of the number of votes cast after said time.
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.